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27 Dec 21. Biden signs $740bn defense policy bill to overhaul sexual assault prosecutions, review Afghan war. President Joe Biden on Monday signed a $740bn bill authorizing funding for the Defense Department in fiscal 2022. The National Defense Authorization Act includes a spending boost for the military, adding $25bn to what the White House requested. And the bill includes a 2.7% pay raise for troops, changes to how the military prosecutes some sexual misconduct crimes and an independent commission to review the two-decade war in Afghanistan.
This is the 61st year in a row Congress and the president have approved the sweeping defense policy bill. The legislation also includes another $28bn to fund Energy Department nuclear weapons programs.
“There’s a lot to be proud of in this bill,” Rep. Adam Smith, chairman of the House Armed Services Committee, said in a statement, citing the pay raise, diversity and inclusion initiatives, and climate provisions. “Ultimately, this year’s NDAA focuses on what makes our country strong: our economy, diversity, innovation, allies and partners, democratic values, and our troops.”
The Senate passed the NDAA Dec. 15, following several months of debate and questions over whether it would even be completed.
The increased top line pays for 12 additional F/A-18 Super Hornets, five more F-15EX jets to bring the total to 17, and another five ships beyond the eight requested, including two attack submarines and two destroyers.
The bill prevents the Air Force from retiring any of its A-10 Warthogs, which the service has long sought to do, but would allow retirements of other aircraft.
Senate Armed Services Committee Chairman Jack Reed, D-R.I., lauded the bill for its investment in new technologies such as artificial intelligence, hypersonics and quantum computing, as well as its focus on strategic competition with China.
Reed also pointed to $13bn in the bill that would go to fund submarine research, development and production, which he said would support workers, suppliers and businesses in Rhode Island.
And Reed applauded the bill’s provision to increase parental leave for all servicemembers to 12 weeks after the birth, adoption or foster care placement of a child as well as a new two-week bereavement leave benefit for both service members and federal civilians.
The Afghanistan commission created by the NDAA will study the entire scope of the war, from its beginning in 2001 to the final withdrawal in August. It will also publicly release an unclassified report on lessons learned and recommendations to “ensure those mistakes are never repeated,” commission sponsor Sen. Tammy Duckworth, D-Illinois, said in a release earlier this month after the Senate passed the NDAA.
Protect Our Defenders, a group that advocates for military sexual assault survivors and changes in how the service prosecutes such crimes, issued a statement calling the bill “the most transformative military justice reform in our nation’s history, and a critical first step to ending the sexual assault crisis that has plagued the military for decades.”
The final bill requires the Pentagon to create an independent prosecutorial office for each service that will have specially trained officials — not military commanders without legal expertise — handle some serious crimes such as rape, sexual assault, murder, manslaughter and kidnapping.
However, the military justice reforms were weakened in negotiations as a compromise was struck on the bill. The final version did not go as far as pushed by Sen. Kirsten Gillibrand, D-N.Y., who advocated for moving prosecution decisions for all serious crimes out of the traditional military chain of command. Gillibrand, who for years has been one of Congress’ most ardent advocates for improving how the military prosecutes sexual assault and treats survivors, voted against the NDAA over that omission.
Protect Our Defenders president Don Christensen, who is also the former chief prosecutor for the Air Force, said that while the reforms are “a big win … there is much more work to be done.”
“Because commanders retain convening authority, they will still wield influence over the process by selecting court members, approving or denying immunity requests, and the hiring of expert witnesses and consultants,” Christensen said. “These commanders can also stop any prosecution simply by allowing the accused to separate from the service rather than face a court-martial. As long as this is still the case, the military justice system cannot be considered truly independent.”
A provision that would have required women to register with the Selective Service System and made them eligible for future military drafts was also dropped from the final compromise version.
Biden issued a signing statement later on Monday objecting to the NDAA’s continued restrictions on using funds to transfer detainees from Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, to the United States or certain foreign countries, and other provisions he said raise constitutional concerns.
He urged Congress to eliminate the Guantanamo provisions, which he said would hinder the executive branch’s ability to decide when and where to prosecute detainees, where to send them after their release, and tie its hands when carrying out “delicate negotiations” with foreign countries over detainee transfers. And in some cases, he said, the NDAA could make it hard to follow a court’s decision ordering the release of a detainee.
Biden also objects to provisions he said would force departments to submit to congressional committees reports containing classified information, including information that could reveal intelligence sources or military operational plans. Biden said the executive branch typically follows reporting requirements in a way that protects sensitive, classified information from being disclosed, and that “I believe the Congress shares this understanding.”
The final compromise NDAA also includes a provision prohibiting the use of open-air burn pits during overseas contingency operations, unless the secretary of defense issues a waiver. This was relaxed from the House’s original version, which would have required the president to issue an exemption.
Biden, who suspects burn pit exposure may have led to his son Beau Biden’s death, reiterated his opposition to burn pits in the signing statement. He asked that Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin seek his approval before issuing any exemptions. (Source: Defense News Early Bird/Defense News)
23 Dec 21. Here’s what we know about the classified drones the Air Force wants to buy in FY23. The B-21 and future sixth-gen fighter will operate alongside drones, but what will those unmanned aircraft actually do?
: The Air Force’s fiscal year 2023 budget submission will herald two new classified drone programs — one unmanned counterpart for a stealth bomber, as well as a “loyal wingman”-style complement for advanced fighters. But much is still to be decided about the shape of both efforts, a source told Breaking Defense.
Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall first disclosed to Politico earlier this month that the service would insert funding in its fiscal 2023 budget request for two new classified combat drones, but no further detail was available at the time.
Days later at a public appearance, however, Kendall spoke more specifically about a drone counterpart for the B-21 and a “loyal wingman”-style drone that would fight alongside the F-35, F-22 and future sixth generation fighter. A spokesman for Kendall confirmed later to Breaking Defense that those two unmanned aircraft are the ones the Air Force will seek to fund in FY23.
The Northrop Grumman B-21 Raider is slated to roll off the production line and make its first flight next year. As testing of the new stealth bomber ramps up ahead of its fielding in the mid-2020s, Kendall wants the service to begin defining what he calls the “B-21 long range strike family of systems,” which he believes should include some kind of drone.
“The B-21 is a very expensive aircraft. It has a certain payload and range. We’d like to amplify that capability it has to penetrate, which is valuable,” Kendall said during a Defense One event on Dec. 9.
“What we want is something that can go operate with it,” he said. “I won’t say accompany it — the tactics are very much to be determined. But we’re going to sort that out and think about unmanned combat aircraft and how to network them together under the control of an operator of the B-21, to operate as a formation in some loose sense.”
An Air Force source with knowledge of the program told Breaking Defense that the service is still in the earliest stages of defining what the new drone will do and how it should operate in conjunction with the B-21 — aside from keeping a low profile. “The last thing you want to do is draw attention to the bomber,” the source said.
One key aspect for the drone will be the sophistication of its communications suite and the security of the networks it uses, said Rebecca Grant, an aerospace expert with IRIS Independent Research. That, in turn will help inform its tactics, including how deep it can penetrate into enemy airspace and the proximity it can operate from the bomber.
“What information can you pass, and at what ranges?” she said. “And then [the question is] .. what do you need? Double cappuccino, electronic warfare, extra weapons? … I think that is going to take experimentation.”
Those details, Grant said, will likely remain a secret for a long, long time.
“Kendall was part of the group that downselected the B-21. He spent six years investing in these programs, and they also put in a really huge security protocol,” she said. “For valid security reasons — Russia and China — they’re gonna try to work this in the black [budget]. We’re not ever going to hear very much about this.”
‘Loyal Wingman’ For A Cutting Edge Fighter
The US Air Force is one of many air forces around the world interested in building a unmanned “Loyal Wingman” that can operate somewhat autonomously, performing missions too dangerous for human pilots or augmenting a manned fighter’s operations.
Australia is working with Boeing on its own formally titled Loyal Wingman aircraft, while the UK hopes to build a similar capability called Mosquito that will fly with its future fighter, Tempest. But up until Kendall’s remarks earlier this month, the US Air Force had not committed to a program of record for the concept.
The Air Force is “principally” looking to build a loyal wingman drone for the service’s sixth-generation fighter, also known as Next Generation Air Dominance, but could also be controlled by the fifth generation F-22 or F-35, Kendall said Dec. 9.
Under the service’s current thinking, a single manned fighter would be able to issue commands to “nominally, up to five” drones, he said.
“The idea is that the manned aircraft is essentially calling plays and is using those other unmanned combat aircraft basically as a formation to do things that make sense tactically,” he said. “This opens up a whole bunch of opportunities. But the exact mix of that, and what you carry on those unmanned combat aircraft, and what kinds of plays you would pre-program for the operators to select are all things we have to go sort out.”
On its face, the program sounds similar to several developmental efforts the Air Force already has in work, which Kendall said could be “feeders” for the classified projects.
Air Force Research Laboratory’s Skyborg program is seeking to build an autonomy module that could be integrated with different drones, providing a common artificial intelligence and interface for pilots to issue commands to mix of unmanned systems. Meanwhile, earlier this year, General Atomics and Kratos were awarded contracts for protoypes under the “Off Board Sensing Station” program, which aims to develop new unmanned aircraft that can host different sensor suites.
However, the Air Force source noted that many questions still need to be addressed by the service, including how best to strike a balance among affordability, disposability and capability.
Drones could be the “pawn in a chess game,” pushed out first to entice an adversary to reveal itself, the source said. They could be used as sensor beds that collect data and bridge communication systems. They could function as missile trucks, receiving targeting information from fighters and sending forth a burst of munitions. Or they could be highly sophisticated mini-fighters, capable of penetrating deep and looking much like NGAD.
Another option, the source said, is that the Air Force could buy several different unmanned aircraft to help fighters with different types of missions. That, in turn, “could create a different dynamic” in the defense industrial base, proving steady production work not only for the major aerospace primes, but for mid-tier companies like Kratos, General Atomics and Dynetics, the source said.
No matter the exact functions the loyal wingman drone performs, the idea will be to shorten the timeframe between the moment the Air Force first sees a target and the moment it strikes that target, IRIS’s Grant said.
“When you do see that fleeting Chinese missile target or that Chinese ship, when you’ve got it in your crosshairs, metaphorically speaking, do you then want anyone to be able to call down a lot of ordnance without having to wait an hour till that thing’s gone away or, you know, 11 minutes until the thing has gone away?” (Source: Breaking Defense.com)
23 Dec 21. Meeting the B-21 Raider: 2022 to bring new bomber’s eagerly awaited rollout. The coming year will see the U.S. Air Force’s most anticipated new aircraft rollout in recent memory as the service debuts its next stealth bomber. But 2022 will also bring what are expected to be tough choices and retirements as part of the upcoming budget proposal for the following fiscal year. The B-21 Raider will be rolled out to the public in 2022, though there is no concrete date. Several months afterward, the Raider will make its first test flight.
“We’ll do something special as we bring out the B-21,” such as a ceremony for the unveiling or the follow-on first flight, Air Force Chief of Staff Gen. CQ Brown said in September during Defense One’s online State of Defense conference.
This will be the first public unveiling of a new Air Force bomber in more than three decades, since Northrop Grumman’s B-2 Spirit bomber was revealed to the public at Air Force Plant 42 in Palmdale, California, in November 1988. The B-2?s first public flight took place the following year, in July 1989.
But Air Force Secretary Frank Kendall on Dec. 9 suggested the Air Force may continue to play its cards on the Raider close to the vest, even into 2022.
“You’re not going to get to see much of it,” Kendall said during an online Defense One panel. “We don’t want to give our enemies a head start on any of this. We’re going to acknowledge that we’re doing this, let the public be aware, let the Congress be aware of it. But we’re not going to say a lot more about what we’re doing in the public.”
Kendall said at the Air Force Association’s Air, Space and Cyber Conference in September that five B-21s were in various stages of production at Plant 42.
Todd Harrison, an aerospace and defense budget expert with the Center for Strategic and International Studies, expects the Air Force’s fiscal 2023 budget request — coming early next year — to also yield more details on the B-21. Harrison said Dec. 10 that could include more information on the service’s procurement plan as well as hints on how quickly the aircraft could be fielded.
“2022 is going to be a big year for the B-21,” Harrison said.
But the 2023 budget request could also include some difficult trade-offs for the Air Force as it seeks to retire more aging aircraft to free up resources. The upcoming budget is expected to be a tight one, leaving little room for the service to modernize as quickly as needed. Kendall and other Air Force leaders have recently increased their calls for Congress to allow the service to retire aging aircraft they say won’t be of much use in a high-end fight against a foe like China.
And with the lessons the Air Force garnered from a series of force-planning exercises under its belt, the upcoming budget submission could include more sweeping changes to force structure than previous budget requests.
“As we look at [FY]23, this is where I’m really focused,” Brown told Defense News in a November 2020 interview.
The Air Force’s effort to acquire an aerial refueling tanker to bridge the gap between the KC-46A Pegasus and the next-generation tanker could gather steam next year as well. The Air Force in June released a sources-sought solicitation for the KC-Y, or bridge tanker, program.
Three months later, Lockheed Martin revealed its LMXT aerial refueling tanker — a modified version of the Airbus A330 Multi Role Tanker Transport plane — that will compete against the KC-46 to produce up to 160 bridge tankers.
In an interview with Defense News on Dec. 4, Brown said the timing of the competition for the bridge tanker was still too be determined, but that the process had started. (Source: Defense News)
17 Nov 21. Here’s the Army’s 24 programs in soldiers’ hands by 2023.
The Army boasts that about two-thirds of its modernization priority programs will be in various stages of prototyping by fiscal 2023.
The US Army’s modernization effort is well underway, with service leaders pledging that 24 of the service’s 35 modernization programs will be in soldiers’ hands as fielded systems or prototypes in fiscal 2023.
The multi-billion-dollar effort includes a wide range of next-generation battlefield capabilities, from new ground vehicles to long-range missiles to enhanced network tools as the service pivots away from counterterror operations to near-peer threats in China and Russia.
“Our efforts are already paying off,” Army Chief of Staff Gen. James McConville said in his keynote speech at the Association of the United States Army (AUSA) conference in early October.
The Army’s 35 modernization priorities, known in the service as the 31+4 priorities, are made up of 31 modernization programs run out of Army Futures Command and another four by the service’s Rapid Capabilities and Critical Technologies office.
But while individual programs have been publicly lauded as among the first 24 out of the gate, Army Futures Command recently provided Breaking Defense with the full list of programs set to be in soldiers’ hands by FY23, either as fielded systems or, more broadly, in various phases of prototyping. Soldiers are already playing with some of the new tech, and an Army Futures Command spokesperson said that each have already met or are expected to meet the FY23 deadline.
The list runs in order of modernization priority. For example, the first four are part of the Army’s top modernization priority of Long Range Precision Fires, and the last six part of Soldier Lethality, the service’s sixth modernization priority.
- PrSM: Precision Strike Missile
- ERCA: Extended Range Cannon Artillery
- LRHW: Long Range Hypersonic Weapon
- MRC: Mid-Range Capability
- AMPV: Armored Multi-Purpose Vehicle
- RCV: Robotic Combat Vehicle
- MPF: Mobile Protective Firepower
- FUA/FTUAS: Future Unmanned Aircraft Systems/ Future Tactical Unmanned Aircraft System
- Unified Network: Integrated Tactical Network
- COE: CPCE/MCE- Common Operating Environment: Command Post Computing Environment/Mounted Computed Environment
- CPI2: Command Post Integrated Infrastructure
- MAPS: Modular Active Protection Systems
- DAPS: Dismounted Assured Positioning, Navigation, and Timing System
- M-SHORAD: Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense
- Indirect Fires Protection Capability: Iron Dome
- LTAMDS: Lower Tier Air and Missile Defense Sensor
- AIAMD: Army Integrated Air and Missile Defense
- DE M-SHORAD: Directed Energy Maneuver-Short Range Air Defense
- NGSW: Next Generation Squad Weapon
- IVAS: Integrated Visual Augmentation System
- ENVG-B: Enhanced Night Vision Goggle – Binocular
- RVCT: Reconfigurable Virtual Collective Trainer
- SiVT: IVAS Squad Immersive Virtual Trainer
- OWT / TMT / TSS: One World Terrain/ Training Management Tools/ Training Simulation Software
Retired Army Maj. Gen. John Ferrari said that list “fairly consistent over the past several years, so that is a good sign that the Army remains behind these programs.”
But he suggested he was concerned with the remainder of the 35 programs that aren’t included.
“Rapid prototyping is very good but only about 2/3rds will be in that stage by 2023,” said Ferrari, who served as director of program evaluation and analysis in the Army G-8 office and is now a nonresident senior fellow at the American Enterprise Institute. “In the glass half empty scenario that means the others are going through a much longer process for which the Army will spend a lot of money but may not see success; given the pace of tech change these longer term programs face both high tech obsolescence risk as well as funding challenges going forward.”
The first item on the list, the Precision Strike Missile, rocketed past a milestone earlier this year when it flew beyond 499km, that much closer to full production. As for the Army’s Long Range Hypersonic Weapon, run out the RCCTO, the service delivered the prototype battery to soldiers at Joint Base Lewis-McChord earlier this year and is on track to deliver its first hypersonic missile round in FY23, according to the RCCTO director. The office’s Mid-Range Capability, which will fly somewhere between the PrSM missile and the Long-Range Hypersonic Weapon, has completed early research and started the prototyping phase this year.
Some programs, such as the Army’s Integrated Tactical Network, are already being fielded to soldiers. The augmented reality IVAS system is scheduled for first unit equipped in September 2022 after a technical issue with the goggles pushed operational testing back several months.
As noted, the Army still faces the reality of declining budgets in the future with Secretary of the Army Christine Wormuth stating in September that the service faces “hard choices” moving forward. In October she announced that the service was beginning a broad analysis of the service in the face of budgetary pressures. Ferrari noted that the money question is lingering over the service’s modernization programs.
“Money is going to be a huge factor going forward,” Ferrari said. “It is not clear how the Army within the constraints of the larger defense budget can keep this all on path, and if it cannot, then how does it decide what gets done vs not get done. The Congress was supportive in the NDAA to spending money on procurement so the closer an item is to production the more likely it survives.” (Source: glstrade.com/Breaking Defense.com)
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